Ode to Success

Today is an ironic day for me to be writing about success.

Today I managed a grand total of 90 mins of work before sprinting out from an ongoing meeting on the verge of a meltdown. My shame kept me from returning to then office all day. Tomorrow I will be spending at home to recover from the aforementioned meltdown. And the following day I will be ‘having a talk’ with my boss about how we can avoid such scenes in future.

Today I do not feel particularly successful in the eyes of the world.

However, in the style of St Paul, I have much to ‘boast’ about:
– I was top of my year at school: I have 12 GCSEs, 3 A-levels (including an A in general studies, much to my head of year’s delight!)
– I have a masters degree from a Russell Group university: a double major, which was no mean feat I can tell you!
– I have worked full time for 4 years, including shift work (which is absolutely awful. Never, ever do this to autistics.)
– I have specialist qualifications in sustainable building: making me uniquely qualified in the UK.
– I am regularly head-hunted for jobs.
– My boss tells me I’m ready to become a chartered engineer after 2.5 years experience (this usually takes 3-4 years)
– In another life I have been a outdoor activity instructor and am a trained canoe and kayak coach.
– I am married.
– I own my own home.
– Oh and I have grade 8 Jazz Clarinet!

I guess that would be classed as successful in most people’s eyes. This is not said to puff myself up, only show any sceptical NTs what autistics CAN do.

But all that has taken a MASSIVE toll on my health – mentally and physically.

– I can no longer work full time. I work 25 hours a week, and sometimes (this week) not even that.
– I get home from a full day of work and all I can bring myself to do is stare at the wall or watch TV for hours.
– I had to leave outdoor education because I developed chronic chostochondritis – a horribly painful chest condition which I wouldn’t wish on anyone.
– I have chronic back pain and cannot stand or sit for long periods of time.
– I have regular bouts of depression.
– I have no friends (I cannot keep them)
– I am too anxious/easily overloaded to go out in large groups of people: I hate weddings, parties, shopping, networking events, family gatherings.
– If I do attend the above events (out of duty) I can only manage a couple of hours max.
– I had so many meltdowns in my first year of marriage I nearly lost my husband.
– I cannot go on holiday without at least one meltdown.
– I have no hobbies; I have neither the time nor the energy for any.

It’s whether we SHOULD do those things that I am beginning to question.

Why should I only be treated with respect if I can hold down a job?

Why should I only have a voice in society if I pay my taxes?

Why should I only deem myself ‘successful’ if I have these things?

For autistic people, most days it is a genuine success if we get out of bed. We can take great pride in ourselves if we have showered. It is outstanding if we have managed to ready ourselves enough to leave the house.

For me post-diagnosis, now I am armed with a greater knowledge of myself, I am beginning to redefine what success means for me.

What if I could be meltdown free? What if I could learn to manage my anxiety so I can sleep at night? What if I could go on holiday and actually relax? What if I could have the brain power to pursue the things which bring me joy?

Wouldn’t that be the successful autistic? One who doesn’t have to deal with all the overwhelming demands of the world by periodically shutting/melting-down and losing control over their own mind and body, but can work out their individual sustainable level of sensory and social input.

That’s what I’m aiming for in my life anyway. I don’t know if it’s possible but I am going to fight for it with all I’ve got.

Sustainability over success.

Or maybe sustainability is success!

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11 thoughts on “Ode to Success

  1. I had a successful career – 15 years earning well in marketing. I am married, I have my own home. But women who are incredibly strong with their autism I think find the effort as they get older is just too much. I have given up aspirations of work. I left 3 jobs in close succession (one by ending up in A and E) and I realised I only have enough executive functioning to have a family and keep house. So me and my husband have accepted the victorian division of labour. It sucks sometimes but then I smile and look at my cats and we have time galore to paint, draw, create, read, garden. I did my years of hard work and now I am retired. πŸ˜€

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks for sharing your experience, Kate. I am grateful for every person around who will not think I am a failure if I find that leaving work behind is the only way I can keep healthy. I am still hoping to find a balance where I can make work work. But I don’t have a family yet and am worried about what will have to change then.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Yes!

    I’m constantly confused by the sometimes completely arbitrary designation of one thing as “success” and another as “only noticeable if lacking”.

    Noticing what you have actually achieved is really helpful. At the end of the day I run through a mental list of “today I…” And pat myself on the back for them.

    Some days that list is just, “today I got the rest I needed, which means tomorrow I’ll have more energy”, sometimes it’s, “today I got myself up and dressed, got everyone out of the house on time, kept us all alive all day and put on a load of washing, go me”.

    The lower the expectations I put on myself, the less time I spend worrying, and the more I get done. It’s a vicious circle.

    Great post. Really enjoyed it.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Thanks Rhi! I am trying to get to the point where I can allow myself to take a day off and relax when I need to. I currently take days off but spend the whole time feeling guilty that I am not working which is not conducive to relaxation at all! Reading other people’s experiences is really helping me.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. I had to return to work full time when I separated from my ex and that was so stressful. I dropped everything else I was doing so that I could cope, except for parenting of course. It is nice now to feel like I can handle a little bit more in my life again.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Only just read this, Beth – thank you so much for writing. I’m continually beating myself up for not being good enough. Even after the relief of diagnosis, and starting to open up at work beyond my immediate colleagues, I still feel like such a bloody failure so much of the time despite being, like you, able to reel off a list of things that would commonly be deemed to = “success”.

    We need to be kind to ourselves, and it’s bloody hard at times after a lifetime of frustration.

    Great post.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Ha! It seems that WordPress treated my reply in much the same way it treated your comment, only I thought it had sent when it hadn’t!
      Thank you for your comment(s)! I am so glad I’ve found people who can relate to my experiences. I hope we can all find our own balance of stress and rest, and start to redefine success!

      Liked by 2 people

  5. Arrggh! I just wrote a really long comment and for some reason it didn’t post! 😩

    So, you’ll have to make do with a simple “great post” instead! Can relate to so much of this – I’m still beating myself up too much.

    Liked by 2 people

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